David Cameron wants to ban Greeks from Britain. What would Shirley Valentine think?

While more than a million Britons live in the EU, Cameron's immigrant-bashing rhetoric rings hollow.

Apply a small amount of force to the correct area of your patella and your leg kicks out in an involuntary reaction. This is known as a “knee-jerk”. Apply a similar amount of force to the City of London and the Prime Minister kicks a minority.

And so it was on Tuesday. Like a concupiscent peacock, shaking his tail-feathers to the BNP and UKIP, David Cameron announced to the House of Commons Liaison Committee that contingency plans were being hatched to block Greek citizens from entering the UK. He would do this because his “first and foremost duty” as Prime Minister is “to keep our country safe, to keep our banking system strong, to keep our economy robust”. Although, as the latest round of Quantitative Easing indicates, not necessarily in that order.

That’s right folks. As the country slumps from recession to depression, as banks run amok distorting competition and costing the entire globe trillions, as the NHS is being dismantled and sold off piece by piece to any willing provider, the real danger we face is the possibility of immigration from a country with the total population of London.

This is the rancid point of concurrency where imperialist xenophobia, heartless disregard and class prejudice meet. To understand this one must contrast his latest statement with his reaction to proposals by Francois Hollande to tax those with obscenely high incomes. Cameron said that he would “roll out the red carpet” for such French tax exiles. And this applies to rich Greeks too, the ones most complicit in the sovereign debt crisis, who got their money out of the country months ago and have been snapping up London property at astronomical prices.

Rich Europeans are not only welcome – they get the red carpet treatment. Poor Europeans are another matter. We got what we wanted out of them. They bought our goods and services when times were good. They took out unsustainable loans from our banks to do so. The logical thing to do now is to cut them loose. The same Dalek logic which labels the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed as “a burden”.

It is an utterly misconceived debate. If Cameron’s thinking is that the rest of Europe will allow the UK to somehow cherry-pick the bits of the common market which suit them – to export freely, to actively distort other countries’ tax policies, to continue to act as the financial capital and skim the cream of all income – while rejecting the bits which are inconvenient, then he is more deluded than first thought.

But it is also a dishonestly framed debate. More than one million Brits live in EU countries at the last count. That's a significant part of the 5.5m Brits who live abroad – nearly ten per cent of the population. There's an odd double standard here: Foreigners coming to this country are unskilled scroungers, taking our jobs, using our health-care, taking advantage of our welfare state. Britons going abroad are productive, law-abiding, contributors to that society.

This is a key ingredient in the bitter, bigoted jus of Cameron’s scaremongering. By flipping a coin which has the Queen’s head on both sides, he performs a parlour trick, the aim of which is to strike fear. At its heart is a world view which would have seemed more at home three centuries ago: Immigrants are funny-looking intruders, barbarising our society. Emigrants are the good folks of the East India Trading Company who illuminate, educate and civilise natives.

No mention of Shirley Valentine, the image captured brilliantly in the tender Willy Russell character - the cinematic version of which was filmed a few yards from my house. Shirley lives above the restaurant, works there as a waitress cash-in-hand, doesn’t pay municipal or income tax or NI and doesn’t speak Greek. This loveable British institution is absolutely typical of the thousands of Europeans who flock to my island every year. Nothing other than scrounging immigrants, of the kind Cameron detests.

Yet, Greeks welcome them. We take them into our hearts and our homes, break bread with them, knock back shots of Raki with them. We recognise that our different backgrounds, outlooks and experiences will teach us both something and make us better. Migration enriches culture, it does not threaten it.

No mention either of the hundreds of thousands of Brit pensioners who retire to the Spanish Costas, the South of France and the Greek Islands. People who have not paid a penny of tax in that country, but take advantage of its roads, its emergency services, its health system, its infrastructure. The rest of Europe is meant to shrug its shoulders, generously and warmly, and say “That’s what free movement means. The benefits outweigh the disadvantages.” While the UK tightens its borders and carefully selects the richest of each country for entry. This is Cameron’s ludicrous vision of a single market.

That our Prime Minister has a chip, the size and shape of Crete, on his shoulder about Greece is well known. From his earliest days as a humble MP in 2003, he waded into the delicate Balkan soup of historical dispute and diplomatic incident, by declaring that from now on he would call my country "the former Ottoman possession of Greece". Also, it is clear that his latest statement is just posturing. So why should one care?

Because a moment like this reveals the darkest and most unsavoury core of the party which leads our country. Because it makes life in the UK for the many thousands of tax-paying, enterprising, contributing, hard-working people of Greek origin a little bit harder to endure. Because it shows that the manifesto, which had on its cover a Cameron dressed up in compassionate conservatism, nakedly reveals him by page three as the topless, busty centrefold of the far-right.

Shirley Valentine, pack your bags. I’ll be getting ready too. It seems we are both going home.

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here. You can find him on Twitter: @sturdyalex

Shirley Valentine, begone! Photo: Getty Images

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit